Getting to the core of rage, hostility and aggression
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 07/03/2013
My boyfriend Lorenzo and I truly have a special relationship. I can easily see us getting married, having children and spending the rest of our lives together. Although we get along very well, we have this ongoing disagreement about anger. Specifically, Lorenzo’s brother cheated him in a business venture and he continues to not only be angry at his brother for his immoral actions but also his whole family for not cutting his brother off. Lorenzo can sometimes vent and be enraged about this for days.
I understand his frustration, but I believe being angry all the time is bad for his health in general and especially for his heart. (Lorenzo is 42 and a little overweight.) My uncle was a rage-aholic and died of a heart attack that I think was partially due to his anger. Lorenzo disagrees and believes it’s much harder on the body to act nice on the outside and hold anger inside. He says I do that and that the way I cope is unhealthier than his way. Who do you think is right?
You’re both right. Whether one denies and represses anger or openly acts it out, it can be dangerous to your health if the core anger isn’t dealt with and is interfering with the quality of your life. Unlike occasional angry outbursts, sustained rage needs to be recognized, and experienced to some form of completion, not denied, avoided or continually acted out.
There’s often confusion about what distinguishes anger, aggression and hostility. Anger is an emotion, a feeling we all experience, a natural response to being hurt or threatened and — at its core — a need to find justice and protection. Aggression is a behavior that sometimes but not always results from anger. Hostility is a mood or temperament, a systematic way of being that comes from a set of negative attitudes and critical judgments, often resulting in anger or aggressive behavior.
When anger becomes chronic, intense and sustained, it can have a serious physiological impact. Research shows that people who exhibit chronic anger aggressively or have an inability to express anger may have increased rates of high blood pressure and hypertension, cardiovascular disease including heart disease, heart attacks and angina, coronary artery disease and increased levels of adrenaline which can result in depleted adrenal glands. Additional complications can lead to other illnesses and even premature death.
Chronic anger can also negatively impact one’s personal, occupational and social life. People who are chronically angry have more marital difficulties, drink more alcohol, become inebriated more frequently, and are more lonely and alienated. Those with hostile attitudes often times don’t recognize support when it’s available and, further, may have overly demanding expectations that make available support seem inadequate.
Specific to Lorenzo, chronic anger that is acted out intensely/aggressively with unpredictable and explosive behavior can intimidate family and friends, sabotage a career, create legal problems, induce feelings of guilt, shame and remorse, and can cause serious harm to one’s physical and psychological health.
Taralyn, ask yourself if Lorenzo is correct about you. Are you repressing and holding back chronic anger? If you’re denying your anger, it may be coming out in a more passive-aggressive way. There are two sets of behaviors I’d like you to review and see if any of it sounds familiar. The first is gossiping, being overly critical, giving the “silent treatment,” expressing oneself intellectually rather than emotionally, faking agreement in order to end a conversation, provoking the other person negatively and then claiming that person is “too sensitive.” The second set of behaviors includes substance abuse, eating/sleeping/working too much, and being unreliable, accident-prone or underachieving.
No matter how chronic anger manifests, it’s hazardous to one’s health and interferes with happiness. Luckily, there’s support and treatment available, and I highly recommend that — if either of you recognizes chronic patterns of anger — you seek help to learn how to deal with that anger in healthy, assertive and appropriate ways.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.